Maybe I owe it all to Instagram. If the algorithm hadn’t started favoring videos, moving pictures wouldn’t have interested me at all. I was actually quite happy with my still images. But then I saw more and more lettering animations – and I wanted to be able to do that, too.
From illustrator to motion designer
For the past four years, I’ve been experimenting with different ways to make letters move. I started with stop-motion animation in 2019, and a four-week AfterEffects course in January 2023 was the preliminary culmination of my exploration.
With the January course, I opened the door to the vast field called motion design. The terrain I saw there seemed so vast that I was about to slam the door shut again and stick to my skills as a lettering designer.
But instead, I keep practicing so that the techniques and approaches of animation become more familiar to me over time. On the one hand, how to use different software, on the other hand, how to think in moving images. How I can create the animations I have in mind is still often unclear to me.
Learning to think motion
I’ve come to understand that it’s not enough to master the software. And that’s why I’m now also learning how to represent movement.
If I had known that physics play a big role in this, I might have left it alone. I stopped listening in my physics class in 8th grade because I was convinced at that time that I would never ever in my life need basic knowledge of the laws of physics …
Thinking in terms of movement and temporal progressions was unfamiliar to me. In animation there is always a before and an after, a »it starts like this« and a »it ends like that«. With static images, I don’t have to worry about the starting point, the change that occurs, and what the end point looks like. But movement opens up a whole new dimension of possibilities.
Learn animation – techniques, software, courses
I’m still in the middle of the learning process and I can hardly give recommendations on how best to approach animation as an illustrator. But I can tell you how I went about it and list the things that helped me.
Stop motion animation
In 2019, I started with analog stop motion animation, which is classic animation. Dozens of drawings on paper, which I photographed with Stop Motion Studio. The app turns the many individual images into an animation.
Next, I bought an iPad and drawing digitally made animating easier. Basically, I do the same thing in the drawing apps on the iPad as I did before on paper: I draw many individual, slightly offset images. The program then fades them in quickly one after the other, creating the impression of movement.
Procreate and Adobe Fresco
In the beginning, I drew my frame-by-frame animations in Procreate. But today I mostly use Adobe Fresco, because this app allows me to draw vector shapes which can be scaled arbitrarily. In both apps, frame-by-frame animation is easy.
I did a four-week AfterEffects course offered by Cimdata. Four weeks of online instruction in complex software from 8:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. every day was tough, but now I feel pretty confident using AfterEffects. However, I also have the impression that the program might not be the right tool for what I want to do.
Maybe I should use Adobe Animate instead. That program is at the top of my list. I also want to get to know Cavalry – an app for 2D animation that is said to be much more accessible than AfterEffects.
Motion Design School
I found the courses offered by Motion Design School helpful, too. Some lessons are available for free and discount offers for courses, scripts and plugins for AfterEffects come regularly via the newsletter.
How to plan and sketch animations
When I started out, I didn’t know how to sketch movements. Then I found out that storyboards are for that. Capturing the key moments of an animation in them feels familiar, it’s a bit like drawing a comic strip.
I found a lot of general tips on storyboarding, scene transitions and camera work on the website of Boords, a storyboard software. I don’t feel professional enough to pay for Boords’ services, but the blog is very useful.
Animated lettering GIFs for GIPHY
I drew my first animated gif in the fall of 2020, when I was sitting at home sick with COVID: »OH NO«.
Since then, I’ve been posting gifs to my Giphy-Account and have turned into a specialist for white lettering gifs. You’ll find my gifs on Giphy and in the GIF search on Instagram under »allthingsletters« and they can be copied and used anywhere.
Many of my gifs have millions of views. I don’t get anything out of that because the gifs are free to use and no one knows I made them. But at least they are well received!
Learning to animate with patience
Finding my way around animation is taking longer than I expected. And the kind of drawn lettering animation I have in mind is so elaborate that I don’t often find enough time for it.
But in moments when I’m frustrated about it, I think back to my beginnings in lettering over ten years ago. Back then, too, I didn’t really know what I was doing for years. And it took a long time for my knowledge of letters and my lettering skills to complement each other enough that I found my footing. The essence is to keep going.
So I practice animation – and patience.